“Amen,” said he, and I went out of the tent to find the grey dawn beginning to steal up the sky.
Shalah was waiting at the entrance, far inside the white stones. ’Twas the first time I had ever seen him in a state approaching fear.
“What fortune, brother?” he asked, and his teeth chattered.
“The Tidewater is safe. This day they march westwards to look for their new country.”
“Thy magic is as the magic of Heaven,” he said reverently. “My heart all night has been like water, for I know no charm which hath prevailed against the mystery of the Panther.”
“’Twas no magic of mine,” said I. “God spoke to him through my lips in the night watches.”
We took our way unchallenged through the sleeping host till we had climbed the scarp of the hills.
“What brought you to the tent door?” I asked.
“I abode there through the night, I heard the strife with the devils, and my joints were loosened. Also I heard thy voice, brother, but I knew not thy words.”
“But what did you mean to do?” I asked again.
“It was in my mind to do my little best to see that no harm befell thee. And if harm came, I had the thought of trying my knife on the ribs of yonder magician.”
HOW THREE SOULS FOUND THEIR HERITAGE.
In that hour I had none of the exhilaration of success. So strangely are we mortals made that, though I had won safety for myself and my people, I could not get the savour of it. I had passed too far beyond the limits of my strength. Now that the tension of peril was gone, my legs were like touchwood, which a stroke would shatter, and my foolish head swam like a merry-go-round. Shalah’s arm was round me, and he lifted me up the steep bits till we came to the crown of the ridge. There we halted, and he fed me with sops of bread dipped in eau-de-vie, for he had brought Ringan’s flask with him. The only result was to make me deadly sick. I saw his eyes look gravely at me, and the next I knew I was on his back. I begged him to set me down and leave me, and I think I must have wept like a bairn. All pride of manhood had flown in that sharp revulsion, and I had the mind of a lost child.
As the light grew some strength came back to me, and presently I was able to hobble a little on my rickety shanks. We kept the very crest of the range, and came by and by to a promontory of clear ground, the same, I fancy, from which I had first seen the vale of the Shenandoah. There we rested in a nook of rock, while the early sun warmed us, and the little vapours showed, us in glimpses the green depths and the far-shining meadows.
Shalah nudged my shoulder, and pointed to the south, where a glen debouched from the hills. A stream of mounted figures was pouring out of it, heading for the upper waters of the river where the valley broadened again. For all my sickness my eyes were sharp enough to perceive what manner of procession it was. All were on horseback, riding in clouds and companies without the discipline of a march, but moving as swift as a flight of wildfowl at twilight. Before the others rode a little cluster of pathfinders, and among them I thought I could recognize one taller than the rest.